United States downgrades Qatar amid labour abuse concerns

New US human trafficking report puts Gulf state on Tier 2 watchlist; says must "significantly increase" efforts to fight abuses
(AFP/Getty Images - for illustrative purposes only)
By Andy Sambidge
Sun 22 Jun 2014 04:58 PM

The United States has voiced its growing concern about modern-day slavery in Qatar after it downgraded the Gulf state on its human trafficking watchlist for 2014.

The move follows revelations of alleged maltreatment of migrant workers in the country amid a major construction boom as it prepares to host the World Cup tournament in 2022.

Qatar was demoted to a Tier 2 watchlist, with the report recommending that the Gulf state abolishes or significantly amends provisions of Qatar’s restrictive sponsorship system, which authorities have recently agreed to.

Qatar was previously on the Tier 2 watchlist in 2011 but was upgraded for 2012 and 2013. In 2007, it was listed among the Tier 3 countries, alongside Saudi Arabia, as one of the world's worst offenders.

The report also calls for Qatar to "significantly increase efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offences, and convict and punish traffickers, particularly for forced labour crimes".

It also appeal to Qatari authorities to do more to fine employers who withhold workers’ wages or passports; and to enforce the law requiring that employees receive residence cards within one week of arrival as a means of preventing trafficking abuses.

"There cannot be impunity for those who traffic in human beings," said John Kerry, the US secretary of state. "It must end."

The US report said Qatar was a destination country for men and women subjected to forced labour and, to a much lesser extent, forced prostitution.

Approximately 1.2 million men and women — 94 percent of the country’s workforce — from Nepal, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, Sudan, Thailand, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, Kenya, Burma, Nigeria, and China voluntarily migrate to Qatar to work as low- and semi-skilled workers, primarily in the construction, oil and gas, service, and transportation industries, as well as domestic work.

Qatar's treatment of its massive foreign workforce has been under the international spotlight as it launches a massive construction programme for the infrastructure for the world football showcase in 2022.

Sponsorship systems for foreign workers exist in most Gulf countries, which employ millions of foreigners, especially from Asia. The system has been strongly criticised by human rights groups.

In March, an investigation by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) claimed foreign workers in Qatar were being kept in an “apartheid situation” where they are “treated like animals” and forced to live in squalor.

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